PopCult Rudy Panucci on Pop Culture

The PopCult Toybox

The Sad Case of Iron Man and the Big Clone Trooper 

A few weeks back I told you about Hasbro’s new 12″ action figure line, which will encompass Marvel, Star Wars and GI Joe. These are inexpensive figures, aimed at kids, but produced in a scale that appeals mainly to adult collectors.

I got my hands on a couple of these gems, just so I could tell you how bad they are. I chose Iron Man and a Star Wars Clone Trooper. Initial reaction is that these things have very clever packaging. The size is almost exactly the same as a vintage GI Joe “coffin box.” What’s most clever is that the box is one piece of cardboard, folded into a box. The figures are held in place by two pieces of paper twine (there are some additional small pieces of cardboard to reinforce the tie-down holes. Rather than glue, the box is held together with a single piece of tape on one side.

The Iron Man package has cellophane. The Star Wars package does not.It’s not really needed since the figures have no loose accessories.

Wow! Look at that clever, clever packaging! Some might call it a “turd mansion.”

This is a nice little “green” initiative, since it uses less cardboard and the package has no glue or metal twist-ties to clog up landfills. I could go on and on about the packaging, and the temptation exists to do so. The longer I write about the packaging, the longer I can put off dealing with the figures sold inside them.

The original GI Joe “coffin box”

Let me give you a brief bit of history first. Hasbro introduced the idea of the “action figure” back in 1964 with the debut of GI Joe. GI Joe was almost twleve inches tall and had around twenty points of articulation–or joints–that allowed him to be put in thousands of different poses. Many of those joints were ball-and-socket affairs that allowed for an even greater range of movement. GI Joe went through many phases. He left the military and became a fuzzy-haired Adventurer. Then he shrank to eight inches to try life as a superhero. An entire generation knows GI Joe as a smaller figure who fought terrorists as “A Real American Hero.”

GI Joe, all fulla joints and stuff.

In the 1990s GI Joe rode a wave of nostalgia to return to his former size, and had more than another decade as a top-notch, well-articulated action figure. Though they were no longer the industry leaders in terms of detail or articulation, Hasbro still proved that they could produce quality 1/6 scale figures and accessories.

Sadly, the 12″ figure has fallen out of favor in the last few years. An ambitious series of 40th Anniversary GI Joe sets tanked at retail, and less and less attention was focused on large action figures, as prices for raw materials rose. It’s the same thing that caused GI Joe to shrink and then disappear for a few years in the late 1970s. Hasbo is content to license the right to make 12″ GI Joes to Sideshow Collectibles and The Official GI Joe Collectors Club. Both of them do great work, but you won’t find their products at Toys R Us or Wal Mart.

A couple of years ago Hasbro released a small assortment of new 12″ GI Joe sets, but they never really promoted the line and sales results were mixed. When word leaked that Hasbro was going to bring back 12″ action figures, not just for GI Joe, but across several lines this year, collectors were excited…

…until they saw them.

These figures are a mess, due to the near-total lack of articulation. They can barely be posed. If they used thinner plastic to make them, they’d be Soakies. These are the least-articulated 12″ action figures that Hasbro has ever put their name on. Let’s look at them individually:

Iron Man 3 Titan Assortment Iron Man

“Uh, I’ll just stand here.”

This is the “Titan Assortment” figure from Iron Man 3. It’s a statue. He can stand on his own, unless you try to pose him. Then he pretty much falls right over. His legs have to be perfectly positioned for him to stand. Otherwise he falls because his feet are level. Moving his arms in front or back of him puts him too off-balance to remain standing.

This figure has five points of articulation, all of them simple swivel-joints, or ball-joints that are so constrained that they might as well be. He can bend his legs at the hip, his arms at the shoulder and his neck can swivel.

It’s a repulser ray!

The sculpt is acceptable, but the lack of articulation is not. One hand is posed open, so that he can shoot his repulser ray. However, the lack of any mobility in his arm means that he can only raise his arm and fire said ray to his left. The other hand is a fist. His legs can goose-step, and even then they won’t move back very much.

But on the other hand, it’s a fist.

Paint operations are minimal. The figure is molded in red, and has gold highlights, with white paint in three small places. The pose that the figure is molded in looks like it was determined by the size of the packaging. There is nothing dynamic about the way this figure stands. He just stands there, looking depressed, like he knows how much he sucks.

“Look what I can do!” No, seriously, that’s about all he can do.

This figure is ten bucks at Target, fourteen at Toys R Us. It looks as if Hasbro made this so cheaply that they could wind up clearanced for three dollars and Hasbro could still break even. I can’t see any customizing value in ths figure unless someone wanted to cut one up so they could have a spare set of Iron Man armor laying around in a diorama.

Star Wars Clone Trooper

Hi, I’m a clone Trooper. I’m sorry.

Much of the criticism of Iron Man also holds true for the Clone Trooper. He has two extra points of articulation–his wrists swivel–but he also has less paint on him. This figure is molded in white plastic, and has a small amount of black paint, applied in a very sloppy manner.

He comes with a blaster, which would be nice IF IT WERE REMOVABLE. His gun is permanently molded to his hand. His other hand is a fist, and cannot hold anything.

“I just can’t put this blaster down. No, really, it’s stuck to my hand.”

The Clone Trooper has pretty much the same arm and leg articulation as Iron Man, only his leg will go further back because of the armor design.

The Clone Tropper suffers even more than Iron Man with the pose that he’s pretty much stuck in. There is he is, arms straight down, legs straight down, head slightly down. The illusion of the figure being depressed is even worse with the Clone Trooper. The design of his armor almost requires him to be posed more dynamically. Standing the way this figure does makes it look like he has a middle-aged paunch and man-boobs.

“I can’t run in this armor!”

As with Iron Man, the only customizing value would be to cut the Clone Trooper up for background props.

These are sad excuses for action figures. I know the economy is bad and the cost of raw materials (petroleum for plastic) is going up, but if a company is going to cut this many corners to bring a product to retail, maybe they need to stop and think if it’s even worth the effort.

In a few months, the Captain Action Iron Man outfit set is coming out. Toys R Us will have it (well, maybe not in Charleston) for twenty bucks. If you put that costume on Captain Action you’ll have an Iron Man action figure with five times the amount of articulation of these plastic statues.

There’s no man-boobs in Star Wars!

I don’t understand why Hasbro played it so much on the cheap with these figures. They charge way more for much smaller action figures. Their failing 10″ figure line retails for more than twice what they’re asking for these things. It’s almost like there was demand for 12″ figures from retailers, but Hasbro didn’t want the line to succeed, so they deliberately gold-bricked (or this case plastic-bricked) the figures.

It doesn’t make any sense, but in an industry dealing with eleven years of declining birthrates (and thus, an ever-shrinking customer base for them) you have to wonder if this is some sort of Max Bialystock-style scheme to convince Disney to buy the company, just so they can see more care taken with their properties.